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For Your Shabbat Table

Bow & Arrow

Have you ever shot a bow and arrow?  I haven’t.  In school, the teachers spoke of the custom of taking kids to the fields to shoot bows and arrows on Lag B’omer.  But they never took us.  Archery by proxy.

The custom, they told me, dates back to the Roman oppression of Israel (yes, before the Roman imperialists renamed it Palestine and imported foreign people, the land was called Israel and the people who lived there were Jews).  The clandestine cheders (Jewish schools) would hold class in the fields.  If the Roman soldiers or the treacherous collaborators walked by (Et tu, shtoonk?) the aspiring yeshiva bochurim hid their parchments and strung their bows.  (Similar to the dreidel story with the Greeks.)

A man that I know (not very well) dresses in typical Chassidic garb on Shabbat: black coat, black hat.  But he doesn’t have a long flowing beard; he doesn’t have any beard at all.  In fact, not a hair grows on his head or face, even eyebrows.

In Soviet Russia the Yevsektzia, the Jewish Communists (et tu?)  took a fanatical interest in persecuting the clandestine chedorim in the basements. If the Russian soldiers or the treacherous collaborators walked by the aspiring yeshiva bochurim hid their worn books and started playing red light green light.  

One boy was lookout, and when he sounded the alarm and the books were shoved away, one page fell out.  The lookout was grabbed by the neck and asked to identify the non-Russian script on the page.  He was thrown into a dark, damp cell for the night.  And for the next day.  Luckily he was released to his parents.  He grew up married, had children, raised them as true Chassidim and finally was allowed to leave the Motherland.  But his beard had never grown in, and after that night at Gulag-for-kids his hair fell out.

So I have been told.  I never asked the lookout to verify the story.  I’m glad my kids can learn outside of basements and take scheduled breaks to play red light green light.  And on balance, even though I’d rather have shot bows and arrows, I’ll even forgive those teachers who took us on archery-deprived picnics.


Two Consenting Adults

This three-word mantra, which condones every four-letter word, has been the avant-garde on every affront to this week’s parsha.  Nor is it a cause without merit: we don’t want government poking its nose into our business any more than necessary.  And we have a bad history with inspired lynch mobs.

But two-consenting-adults is no longer about civil liberties.  Its cause, increasingly more often stated than implied, is to coerce society (us) to accept, then condone, then celebrate, then embrace any and all (have you heard this word lately?)  abomination.

But first, what makes an abomination abominable?  Is it social mores?  Berlin of the thirties shattered forever that once-popular faith.  Is it nature, or instinct?  What would constitute unnatural (and therefore wrong) a heart-transplant?  Ultimately, neither nature nor nurture can  -- nor perhaps should -- decree what is or is not abominable.

Abomination may be considered an old-fashioned word.  It is, if you’re a teenager and forever lasts fifteen minutes.  The ancient Romans and pagans alike celebrated most of what we consider abominable.  It was only with the spread of monotheism via the church and the mosque that Jewish concepts became widespread. 

The concept spread widely, but conduct remained remarkably unchanged, except for going underground.  For while the concept was basically Jewish the understanding – and misunderstanding of it – was fundamentally pagan.

But getting back to the mantra.  In Yiddish, as in Yinglish, we dissect a phrase by playing with word stress.  “Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles,” takes on different lives depending on stress. 

Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles?”  = I thought Herbie was going.

“Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles?” You mean he didn’t go yet?

“Jeffery’s going to Los Angeles?”  Whatever for? I told him he’s meant to be in New York!

So let’s stress and tease some meaning from the mantra.

Two? and why do you discriminate against three?

Consenting? you know there’s no across-the-board consensus on when and where consent begins and ends.

Adults.  Aha, so you think that every culture throughout the ages has been as repulsed as you are by this loathsome (no issue with the vocabulary, this time) abomination?  In Rome it was accepted.  (Why does that dear town keep coming up?  Athens was quite a cesspool itself.) In Eastern countries it’s reflected in their poetry. 

Some argue that Western society confuses children with victimhood.  They maintain that adults know that there are greater joys to be had than Disneyland and there isn’t a thread of evidence that kids wouldn’t arrive at the same conclusion given all the facts that a loving experience lends.

Twenty years ago abomination was society’s description for what now passes as prideful alternative lifestyle.  Unless you have an adolescent time frame then don’t be too smug that the unthinkable will, for better or for worse, metamorphose into acceptance.  


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